The loneliness of the reluctantly orthodox Republican Mormon feminist

Here is our newest guest: Rebecca J. When prodded coerced to write a bio, she replies: “I’m a writer, a housewife and a lifelong Mormon. I have a personal blog, which I write under “madhousewife,” which is an homage to the Sue Kaufmann novel and not a commentary on my emotions. I used to be a journalist, but now I mostly write fiction, which has gleaned me mostly rejection (though I did recently move up to the hand-written rejections, which was nice). I have four kids, two of whom are toilet-trained (mostly). I also tap-dance–poorly, but with joy.” Welcome Rebecca!

As this is my first post for BCC, I feel obligated to break the ice somehow. I could make like I’m giving my first sacrament meeting talk in a new ward and say how I’m really nervous but so grateful for the opportunity and maybe tell the cute story of how I met Steve Evans, but that’s probably been done. I don’t know any jokes, either, so I guess I’ll just have to go straight into my prepared remarks.

Mormons love conversion stories. So do feminists. Mormon feminists must love conversion stories twice as much as anybody. A common Mormon feminist conversion story will tell how a naive, true-blue Mormon girl started out thinking feminism was for godless abortion-lovers and how over time she learned that feminism was merely the radical idea that women are people–oh, and also, that she could vote Democratic and still be a good Mormon. It’s less common to find a story about a Mormon woman who converts to feminism without converting to liberal politics in general, but certainly those stories are out there. It’s even less common to find a story of a Mormon feminist who started out as a liberal and converted to conservatism, while simultaneously diving headlong into the abyss of religious doubt. I am that lonely, prone-to-hyperbole Mormon feminist.

I grew up in a home that was culturally conservative but also open-minded, in the best sense of that word. When I was old enough to vote, I registered as a Democrat because my mother was a Democrat. Also, it seemed less square than being a Republican. I was far more interested in politics than anyone else in my family, though, and the more I learned, the more Democrat-ish I became. I supported progressive income taxes and universal health care; I opposed war and nuclear weapons and heavy defense spending. I was generally distrustful of authority. I joined Amnesty International’s Partners of Conscience. I subscribed to Ms. magazine and Utne Reader. I also subscribed to the Progressive, but I mostly did that just to get the free Anti-Bush (41) t-shirt, which I wore proudly throughout his administration. I was initially leery of Bill Clinton because he seemed too conservative for my tastes, but as I have always been a pragmatic sort, I eventually supported him and rejoiced in his victory and subsequent re-election. I was also a vegetarian, but you probably already guessed that.

I said my prayers, studied my scriptures, served in the Relief Society presidency, did my visiting teaching, did other people’s visiting teaching, went to the temple, and continued to vote Democratic and support gay rights and oppose tax cuts for the rich, because for me politics was not about religion or a lack thereof. I found justification for my politics in my religious beliefs, but that was neither here nor there. I was a SuperMormonGirl who married a SuperMormonBoy, a freshly-returned missionary who graciously snatched me from the gaping jaws of spinsterhood at my tender age of 26. And that’s when everything went to hell.

No, it was not my husband’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, particularly–it was just life happening, like life does. My mother died, I got married, and I got pregnant, all within a few months. It was a lot of stress. It was easier to be righteous when I was single. It was easier to serve willingly. It was when I became obliged to serve that the resentment started creeping in. I found out what I was made of, and it wasn’t such SuperMormonStuff as I thought it was. And this was before my first child was born and I quit my job to be a full-time caregiver. You can imagine how things went from there.

So where did the conservative politics come in? Well, it may never have happened if it hadn’t been for Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal–and no, it wasn’t the sex or the definition of “is” that disturbed me so much as the alleged legal misconduct and, more significantly, the Democrats’ tepid response to it. My decision to change party affiliation, while based on principle, was impulsive and somewhat dramatic. I didn’t kid myself that if one faction was corrupt, the other had to be virtuous. I still entertained thoughts of taking back my party, after this whole impeachment debacle was over. Unfortunately, in my zeal for proving a point, I accidentally stumbled upon some basic political theory, and I found it reasonable. And the rest is apostasy.

I can’t argue that one political persuasion is best or most in line with Mormon doctrine. It isn’t difficult to find religious justification for a number of political positions. I also have a well-developed talent for cynicism, which has given me some perspective. When you get right down to it, one nation’s party politics are just not all that significant in the grand scheme of things. For goodness sake, my husband proposed to me while wearing a Ronald Reagan shirt, knowing that I had voted for Clinton twice. As important as the science of government is, there is just a whole lot more to life and people and the universe. All of it needs to be considered.

Which brings me back to religion. I was teetering on the brink of personal apostasy, or perhaps I had already gone there. I was angry with God about a lot of things. I hated the memories of my former experiences with divine revelation because I couldn’t repeat them. I felt abandoned and misunderstood and overwhelmed. Everything about church irritated me; gender issues didn’t even begin to cover it. The scriptures told me I’d receive no witness until after the trial of my faith, and so I had reconciled myself to having my faith tried. That was all well and good when the Holy Ghost was calling the shots, but after the Holy Ghost and I stopped being on speaking terms, the list of things I couldn’t believe just kept growing longer and longer, and I became more and more miserable.

As I mentioned earlier, though, I am a practical sort. I married a conservative, practicing, R-rated-movie-shunning, decaffeinated-cola-swilling Mormon, and I had several children with him. Leaving the church was not an option. Well, it was an option, but it would have had negative consequences that were not options, as far as I was concerned. So I had to find a way to be Mormon even if I didn’t feel like being Mormon, even if I didn’t believe a single whit of it. I had to, and so I did. I made a mental list of all the things I did believe, regardless of whether or not the Church taught them. I made a mental list of everything I liked about Mormonism, regardless of whether or not I believed it. And then I set about trying to reconcile my two lists.

I haven’t done it. Reconciled them, I mean. They’re still two separate lists, mostly. But they’re getting cozy there, side by side. And I realize that while my political evolution has been separate from my religious evolution, the two are somewhat analogous. I embraced a new political philosophy because I freed myself to think about government in a different way; I was willing to step back, consider that I had been wrong, and keep my mind open to extreme possibilities, as it were.

In my religious journey (for lack of a less-corny word) I have been doing much the same thing. While there are some doctrines I have difficulty swallowing, I won’t give up on the possibility that they’re true. I also won’t give up on the possibility that there’s an alternate explanation, and maybe the Church doesn’t have it entirely correct. What I care about is results: what will make me a better person and the world a better place? I’m not obligated to believe any particular thing–which doesn’t mean I don’t have strong beliefs. I just put them in perspective. It is less than intellectually satisfying at times, but just as privatizing Social Security gives me more options for my financial security, this deregulated style of Mormonism affords me greater opportunity for faith, also known as hope.

Okay, that’s stretching the analogy a little too far. But I like it.

Comments

  1. “tell the cute story of how I met Steve Evans”

    There are no cute stories of meeting me. Here’s a typical one:

    Rebecca was a young blogger toiling in obscurity. Branded with a burning desire to blog at a middling LDS group blog, she took her laptop to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. There she was met by Steve Evans who took the laptop from Rebecca and optimized it, giving her supreme blog power, and handed it back to her in return for her soul. Within less than a year’s time, in exchange for her everlasting soul, Rebecca became a guest at BCC, able to create the greatest posts anyone had ever read.

  2. Steve, I take it this means that the token conservative post at BCC is now filled?

  3. Actually, I was planning to sell my soul for superior tap-dancing ability, but Steve asked first.

  4. Hey, Rebecca J. Good to see you around here.

    It wasn’t anyone’s fault, particularly–it was just life happening, like life does.

    I think I could write a fairly thick book about that. Maybe you could, too.

  5. Pfft. The truth is I sent Steve a link to your personal blog because it’s funny. And he snatched you up.

    You’re a great writer, Rebecca. But I’m still creaming you at Scramble.

    I’m looking forward to more of your posts.

    I have to say, I’ve never identified with either political party and have a hard time understanding why anyone else would, but I’m weird like that.

  6. Adam Greenwood says:

    But the token chauvinist spot remains unfilled. I don’t why I didn’t get picked, I would have been a twofer.

    —-

    Interesting that your political conversion coincided with marriage and children. There’s a lot of evidence for that tendency in the population at large and most of the explanations I’ve seen are unconvincing.

  7. Great post. Love your writing.

  8. Susan M-
    You’re creaming ALL of us at Scramble!

    Rebecca-
    Good post. I think I’ve learned more about you in this one post than all of your personal blogging posts combined! Okay, okay, that’s stretching it, seeing as I have only read 30% of your archives. Or less.

    I like your open mind. Most people I’ve encountered see open minds as a way to take them away from religion; I like that your open mind might lead you right back to it. Refreshing to hear, it is…

  9. “What I care about is results: what will make me a better person and the world a better place?”

    Nicely said.

  10. A. Nonny Mouse says:

    Well, isn’t this special, another cool kid gets admitted into the BCC guest blogger ranks.

    Lemme get this straight…the Democrats “tepid response” to the Lewinsky scandal drove you away from that party but the lying, murderous ways of the current administration and the collusion of the rest of the Republikan Partei isn’t a problem for you? Verrrrry Interesting…

  11. Well, welcome to the dark and uncharted territory of conservative (well, for me, libertarian) feminism (although could I persuade you to carnivorism?) and oh, by the way, leaning toward paganism but carefully keeping grasp on the roots of the gospel because, well, I like it.

    And Camille Paglia.

  12. Good to have you here, Rebecca J- I’ve been a lurker and a fan of your personal site, and danced a ditty (ok, in my mind) when I heard you were in the queue to guest.

    Looking forward to more…

  13. Rebecca,
    Thanks for this post. You do a great job of helping me understand your perspective. I’d love it if we could get a bio like this for all the regular bloggers on the ‘nacle.
    I also liked your explanation of embracing the Republican party, but the best part is how you’ve tried to reconcile your lists.
    Tell me more about how your marriage has endured through these changes. Does your husband support you, or just hope that you’re more on the same page than you really are?

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the interesting post, Rebecca.

  15. Rebecca,
    Great to read you here too. I really enjoyed your post.

    My brain is divided into what I believe and what I also believe. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to let those sets of beliefs co-exist peacefully. It was too tiring to have them duking it out all the time.

  16. MikeInWeHo says:

    What a great story. What a hilarious conclusion. Cafeteria Mormonism = Privatizing Social Security??!! Brilliant.

  17. I like the idea of the two lists; what is on each, and why? Or is that too much like a “Pillars of My Faith” essay?

  18. I was angry with God about a lot of things. I hated the memories of my former experiences with divine revelation because I couldn’t repeat them

    This makes me think of Mother Theresa.

  19. StillConfused says:

    I find many people become more conservative once they have children. My sister is a die-hard liberal and is now pregnant and I can’t wait to see what happens.

  20. I find that ever since I started struggling to redefine my religious beliefs a couple years ago, my political beliefs have gradually become a matter of almost indifference to me. Guess I just don’t have the energy for both anymore.

  21. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 19 Anecdotally, that has not been my experience all. If anything, I’ve observed people (both straight and gay) raising children become more supportive of universal healthcare and other typically “liberal” political positions. I suspect this may be a red state/blue state situation. Where do you live, StillConfused?

    But more importantly, where is all this clandestine online Scrabble taking place? Or do I need some recommend for that too?

  22. Not a recommend, Mike, just a sponsor.

  23. #21,

    The data overwhelming supports StillConfused. The marriage and children gap is one of the big differences between the political parties.

  24. I actually have to go with Mike on this–where I am, parents take their kids to anti-war rallies. I don’t know the numbers (and don’t really care enough to look for them), but around here, parenthood is not equal to more conservative.

  25. Where I live its not unusual for a kid to get a shotgun for Christmas.

    Seriously though the marriage and child gap is a big factor in national elections. Married people with kids are far more likely to vote repub then single non parents and vice versa.

  26. bbell,
    But how long do such statistics go back? I’ve got a vague recollection of reading that the religion/parents = Republican goes back the last 4 or 5 presidential elections at the outside. I guess I’m just not convinced that it’s any more than a blip, and one that’s going away soon.

    But like I said, I only have anecdotal experience with this (besides one ill-remembered, possibly misremembered, article from somewhere), and anecdotal evidence is evidence of, at most, what one or two people do.

  27. The marriage and children gap is one of the big differences between the political parties.

    My husband told me to tell you all that once I started following his lead, everything’s gotten so much simpler.

    Jessawhy (#13), this may sound strange, but my husband and I have never really had this conversation. Not when I wasn’t hysterical, anyway. I think that we more or less are on the same page, as far as the practical stuff goes. We’re both committed to having a Mormon home, for whatever reason. I don’t think he feels the need to “fix” my testimony, so long as I’m still doing all the churchy stuff with him and I’m not corrupting the children. He’s been very tolerant of my diet Coke habit, too.

    I must say, it’s still very hard for me to read the words “embrace the Republican party” in connection with me.

    A. Nonny Mouse, thank you for reading one line of the post and filling in the gaps with your own assumptions and still missing the point. That’s its own kind of cool.

  28. Sam,

    I think it goes back to about 1980. Prior to that I think the issue was a wash between the parties.

  29. I find many people become more conservative once they have children. My sister is a die-hard liberal and is now pregnant and I can’t wait to see what happens.

    I don’t think raising children has anything to do with political philosophy. Why would it?

    Today’s conservatives have done much to destroy American families. The cost of the invasion and occupation of Iraq will be paid by our children and grandchildren, and many of them are without parents because of the war.

    The fiscal policies of many Republicans are unconscionable generational tax-shifting. I much prefer “tax and spend” to “spend and let future generations pay.”

    I am not sure universal health care coverage is a liberal cause nowadays, since conservative governors like Romney and Schwarznegger saw the wisdom and mandated it in their states.

  30. Amen and right on, Naismith and to A Nony Mouse above. One comment, though…I don’t see how Romney’s plan in Massachusetts counts as universal health care. All it does is require individuals to buy coverage and does nothing for people who can’t afford it! I live in neighboring New Hampshire and that’s the complaint I hear from residents of Mass.

  31. Martin Willey says:

    I can understand finding one political philopsphy more persuasive than another. But what A. Nonny Mounse and I might be having a hard time with is how Clinton’s foibles and the Democrats’ “tepid response” could be countenanced, while George Bush’s repeated lying to start a completely unjust war has not caused a similar response. Is your point that the Clinton-Lewinsky thing caused an irrational abandonment of the Democratic party that just happened to precede your (arguably) more rational, intellectual conversion to conservatism?

  32. Martin Willey says:

    And, by the way, I get that that is not the point of your post.

  33. Peter LLC says:

    The christian conservatives in my neck of the woods bend over backwards looking for ways to help families by, inter alia, giving them money for raising children and taking care of the elderly. Meanwhile, the social democrats in my neck of the woods bend over backwards looking for ways to help families by, inter alia, giving them money for raising children and taking care of the elderly.

  34. I feel somewhat obligated to comment, although, I have nothing insightful or witty to add. It is heartening to see someone with so much value in her words get the wider audience she deserves.

  35. bythelbs, none of us have anything insightful or witty, either! Welcome to the club.

  36. Re. 32- I don’t get the point of the post, Naismith, so perhaps you or someone else could explain it to me. She writes about the “loneliness” of being an “orthodox Republican Mormon feminist” but later states she married a Ronald Reagan t-shirt-wearing Republican who is a “conservative, practicing, R-rated-movie-shunning, decaffeinated-cola-swilling Mormon”. Huh? How lonely can she be when her political viewpoints now mirror her spouse’s?

  37. Tony,

    How many Republican Mormon feminists do you know?

  38. Re. 37- I don’t know any, Mark IV, but I don’t think that’s the reason for her loneliness…I think the reason listed for her polititcal change is specious and had more to do with meeting a proper Mormon husband than disgust with the Democrats “tepid response” to Lewinsky-gate. Maybe the abandonment of her core principles is eating her up and it feels like loneliness.

    For what it’s worth…

  39. Tony, well, that is certainly one way to look at it, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Rebecca meant.

    As I read it, politics has very little to do with it.

    When you get right down to it, one nation’s party politics are just not all that significant in the grand scheme of things.

    That is one of the most refreshing things about this post, and if we spend time sniping aboout how much the other party sucks, we are missing Rebecca’s point.

  40. Cynthia L. says:

    “if we spend time sniping about how much the other party sucks, we are missing Rebecca’s point.”

    Couldn’t agree more, and I think we’re going to start policing threadjacks that do so.

  41. “…had more to do with meeting a proper Mormon husband…”

    Hahaha. I plan to get a lot of mileage out of that one! Thanks, Tony!

  42. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 25 I was raised in an area like that and got a .22 for my 13th birthday. (You might be surprised by how much respect I have for that kind of environment, bbell.) I tend to believe your statistics; you’ve got a great track record in here. Here’s an interesting question: Do more people shift to the left- or right- relative to their upbringing? Seems like I’ve known FAR more liberals who come out of conservative families than vice-versa, but that may well be observer bias.

    Who’s more common, the L.A. leftist raised in Orem or a latter-day Alex P. Keaton like Rebecca J?

  43. Rebecca J says:

    “…had more to do with meeting a proper Mormon husband…”

    Again, I would exhort you to read more than a handful of sentences. I was a flaming liberal when I met my proper Mormon husband, and he proposed to me anyway, Ms. magazine subscription and all. And to this day my husband and I don’t really discuss politics. It’s not a vital part of our marriage. Thank God.

    Is your point that the Clinton-Lewinsky thing caused an irrational abandonment of the Democratic party that just happened to precede your (arguably) more rational, intellectual conversion to conservatism?

    Yes, that was my point. I really didn’t want to bring the Clinton thing into it at all, for fear that people would fixate on it (which they have–I will trust my instincts better in the future). Truly, I was only trying to characterize the impulsiveness of the initial act. It was somewhat comparable to a leap of faith, though not analogous. I don’t want to have to write a follow-up post explaining the complexities of my relationship with Bill Clinton.

  44. Rebecca, your post was truly wonderful to read, and in several places I felt like I could have inserted my own name.

    I slightly agree with conservative, small government political inclinations, but have a lot of sympathetic social liberal leanings.

    I strongly believe that as long as your religion can provide hope and inspire you to be your best, it is worth while. My home is one that is divided on the topic of faith, but it is one of mutual respect and love.

    I look forward to reading more from you!

  45. MIke,

    I do not know exactly. The data I have seen suggests that most people grow up and tend to follow the politics of their parents. The number I recall is 80% have similar political beliefs. In an LDS cultural environment when a childs politics differs from their parents usually in 2008 the child is getting more liberal as opposed to conservative leaning parents. That is my anecdotal exp. This is a result of most active LDS leaning conservative so when a child trends away from the political leanings of the parents there is statisticly only one way to go which is more liberal.

    The Church used to be a lot more evenly split politically my own family went from being hardcore New Deal Dems to conservatives during the 60′s and 70′s.

    As for the larger culture the adults who are married and have kids are a fairly conservative bunch. A good stat to remember is that 63-66% of married white males voted for Bush in 2004. Around 58% for married white females.

    So what causes the conservative leaning of the married in the suburbs with kids crowd? Is it that married people with kids have an epiphany and start leaning conservative? OR is it that with marriage rates and family formation rates plummetting that people with conservative leanings are the ones getting married and having babies? I think its probably some of both.

  46. Mike (DV8) says:

    Brilliant as always and softly touching. I’ve been doing a paint by numbers portrait of you in my head since I’ve been reading your personal blog and I’m now that this post has allowed me to see the front of the box, I’m glad to see that my picture wasn’t to far off (more earth tones next time). I found common ground with your story and can say I’m glad I’m a sub.

    Br. DV8

    ps. That whole Rebecca thing threw me a bit. -

  47. Walt Nicholes says:

    Good post – interesting journey.

    I am convinced that if Joseph Smith lived today he would advocate being a Libertarian. (Hold your breath, Walt – there are going to be a million posts ridiculing what you just typed.)

    Seriously, with a statement like “…let them worship how where or what they may.” doesn’t that spell it out? It does for me.

    I have always had a problem with conservatism for conservatism’s sake; like the more “conservative” you are the better. Starting with the problem that “conservative” is almost completely subjective, I struggle with the idea of enforcing good principles and practices. That smacks of Satan’s approach.

    As far as I can tell no political party is the receptacle of all political truth. But a party that believes in limited, constitutionally restricted government appeals to me.

    Let the church (and all churches) teach, persuade, and yes, chastise for the sake of righteousness, but let government not be the churches, nor churches be the government until Christ comes.

  48. For anyone who leans to the left, I highly recomment Ron Paul’s book “Revolution, a Manifesto.” I leaned to the left once. Then I read his book and straight to the right I went. Not Repub., but Libertarian. Paul has a new and committed following from all political parties. Not surprising. He makes alot of sense, along with some valid and at times frightening information.
    The book supposedly has been on the New York Times bestseller list, but not mentioned. Nor it is at Barnes and Noble’s bestseller shelves, although it is in the store in a more hidden section. Could it be that the government at large does not what people to read it? (That’s one more reason to read it.)

  49. Steve Evans says:

    no more RP wackiness!!!

  50. “Could it be that the government at large does not what people to read it?”

    I’m speechless. That’s an accomplishment.

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